Charles Barkley, as an NBA analyst, is the same as Charles Barkley the NBA player – chubby, uncompromising, and goofy. One thing with Charles is that he'll always tell it like it is. Or at least like he thinks it is. Whatever you may think of him as a media guy, the fact is Barkley is and always will be one thing – honest.
Him being honest didn’t sit well with some guys. Most notably, with Kobe Bryant. Some of you probably already know what I’m talking about. It’s the infamous game 7 of the ’06 first-round playoff series vs. the Suns or "The Kobe Bryant Statement Game."
For the rare that still don't know what I'm talking about, let me give you some context. It was a 2-7 matchup, with the Suns being heavy favorites to advance to the second round. And fairly so. With reigning MVP Steve Nash on their side, no one expected the Lakers to pull off an early post-season upset. But Kobe Bryant proved everyone wrong. At the beginning of the series, at least.
After losing game 1 in the America West Arena, the Lakers went on to win three games in a row. Game 4 was the most memorable one, as LA got the one-point win after the overtime. How they got to the overtime is your classic Kobe Bryant fashion. After Smush Parker stole the ball off the inbound play, Kobe tied the game up with 0.7 left in the regulation, taking it to the OT. The Suns were up by one with 6.1 seconds left in the overtime, but Bryant delivered once again. He hit a fallaway jumper at the buzzer to put his team up 3-1. What was at first seen as an unconquerable hurdle became a triumph within reach. The Lakers only needed one more win to advance to the second round. Only one. But it wasn't to be.
The Suns went on a three-game winning streak, and to be honest, it wasn't particularly close. In those three games, they crushed the Lakers with an average margin of almost 19 points. The disparity between Lakers' play in the first four games compared to the last three was huge. The same thing can be said for the Suns, and they deserve massive credit for their comeback. However, that wasn't the story back then, and it isn't to this day. The story is what happened in game 7.
The Suns were up 15 at the half and were charging towards a historic 3-1 comeback. With the game slipping through the Lakers' fingers, one thing was for sure; Kobe was going to try to bring his team within reach. Bryant had an excellent first-half outing, scoring 21 points. Everyone expected the same in the second half. Everyone expected Kobe to be Kobe. But it wasn't the case.
Mamba only took three shots and scored one point during the second half. The Lakers lost the game by 31 and were out of the playoffs. Kobe’s refusal to shoot the ball had people fuming, media guys included. That’s when Charles Barkley’s blunt approach came to surface, as he called Kobe “selfish” for what he did in Phoenix. Kobe defended himself, saying it was all a part of a gameplan.
We had a strategy that worked very well for us in three games. We tried to keep the strategy going in Game 7, and the other games as well, but it didn't work for us. But we're out there to try and win, so to label me as being selfish is something I had to take up with Charles.
Kobe Bryant, ESPN
And Kobe did take it up with Barkley. He made sure to give Charles an earful. Years later, Barkley admitted that Bryant texted him for three hours after he got off the air. It sure made him upset, and you know Kobe wasn't the type of person to say nothing about it.
I got off the air because we get off the air around 2 or 2:30 depending on all of the stuff that we have to do, and Kobe started texting me for the next three hours. We’re going back and forth, and he’s calling me every M.F., every S.O.B. in the world, and I’m laughing as I get these. I’m like, ‘Yo, man, pick up the phone and call me.’ He said, ‘No, mo-fo.’
Charles Barkley, Sports Illustrated
One thing's for sure; Kobe was making some sort of a statement. Was it directed to the NBA media for criticizing him for shooting too much? Maybe. If that was the case, it's safe to say Kobe had no way of winning. If he shot the ball too much, he was criticized. If he didn't shoot enough, he was also criticized.
If Kobe was making a statement to his teammates and the front office, I don't blame him. It was the wrong way of doing it, but I do understand it. The roster around Bryant was below average. There was no way of winning with guys like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown on your team. So maybe that was it. Perhaps that was the Mamba's version of a cry for help. If that was the case, it was the wrong time to send the message.
Imagine if he had led the Lakers to a comeback. It would've been a historic moment in Kobe's career. This way, it's a stain on his resume. Because whatever the logic behind his actions was, it wasn't the place nor the time to send the message.